War of Words

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Let me begin by saying that I have a great deal of respect for John Potter. He has done a tremendous job since becoming postmaster general in 2001. He slashed billions of dollars from a bloated budget, streamlined operations, trimmed 70,000+ career staff employees from the payroll and managed an extremely rough situation in the days after 9/11 and the anthrax scare. While doing all this, he also kept postal rates at the same level from 2002 until just a few days ago.


So what the blazes happened last week? I don't know what officials at the U.S. Postal Service hoped to accomplish when they came out full throttle against postal reform legislation that the Senate was about to pass. If they wanted to completely and utterly alienate the lawmakers with direct oversight over their agency, then they succeeded. To say the least, bill sponsors Sens. Susan Collins and Thomas Carper are not pleased with the interference, issuing a press release that said in part:


· "[T]he Postal Service appears to have sunk to a new low."


· "We are extremely troubled and disappointed that at the very last minute, the Postal Service is attempting to block action on our bill."


· "We're also outraged that the Postal Service would mislead Senators about what's in S. 662 in an effort to block it."


Those are more than words of warning.


Two postal officials later tried to explain their concerns during a briefing with reporters, industry observers and a few Postal Rate Commission staffers. From what I could tell, they only clouded the issue by not answering direct questions and adding confusing doublespeak (As if all those postal abbreviations and acronyms aren't confusing enough!).


It seems like the postal service sat back for too long, not expecting reform to pass. Only when the House pushed its bill through last summer did we hear the first publicized acknowledgments - "disastrous," one official said - that the USPS wasn't happy. If officials had that many problems with the two bills, they should have made their concerns known earlier in the process. An 11th-hour assault is the wrong approach here.


So will we see a 20 percent rate increase if the reform bill is passed and rewritten in conference committee to remove the demands on military retirement costs to appease President Bush? Would the president really want his first veto to be over the postal service? The USPS may be caught between a rock and a hard place, but guess who will pay for it once the smoke clears?


Tad Clarke is editor in chief of DM News. His editorial appears Mondays on www.dmnews.com and in our e-mail newsletter. You can subscribe to our e-mail newsletters by visiting www.dmnews.com/newsletters


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